Updated: May 28, 2020
Winter wildlife photography presents several challenges, for both the animals and the photographers. For iconic animals of the Rocky Mountains, winter means harsh weather, lower quality food, and predators. For the photographers, winter means dealing with the cold, which can be hard on the body and equipment. Here are three tips to make your next time in the wintry field more enjoyable.
No Bad Weather, Only Bad Gear
I live in a cold area, not too far from Yellowstone National Park. Winter temperatures around here can drop to -25F, and that is without windchill. Luckily, that is not the norm. However, it is not uncommon to be outside when the thermometer reads around 0F. The animals don't really care -many of them have fur coats covered in hollow hairs which trap their body heat and keep them warm. Photographers do not have that luxury; however, advancements in clothing have made things more comfortable. Wool, down, and synthetics all work well depending on what you are doing. As everyone's needs are different, my intent isn't to tell you what to wear, but rather encourage you to try out various materials to see what works best for you. If I am not going to be moving much, I love wearing a down coat. If I am skiing/snowshoeing, I typically wear a merino wool layer covered by a Columbia jacket with OmniHeat. There are lots of great brands out there, but don't skimp on quality. This is an area where you do get what you pay for.
Look, But Don't Disturb
We all love to see animals up close, but winter may not be the best time to do that. For example, calling an elk in during the September rut is a rush. Sometimes they come in within a matter of feet. In the winter, though, they group up, often in valley bottoms where they can have some advantage over the wolves which will likely be nearby. Getting too close to elk at this time of year can drive them out of key habitat areas and make them more vulnerable to predators and starvation. Whether you are shooting deer, elk, moose or predators, just be cognizant of what the animal is up against and don't make their life harder.
Try Out A Filter
Depending on your shooting preferences, you may want to consider using a filter when shooting animals on snow. This is especially important if it is a bluebird day with bright sun reflecting off the snow. The contrast and exposure can be pretty stark. Where I live, these days feel rare during the winter, but even on cloudy days it is not bad to keep some filters in your pack. I have had good luck with Moose's Filters, but just like the clothing, try a few out and see what works best.
Winter photography adventures can be extremely rewarding. The most important thing is to get out and shoot. Many view the winter as prime time to focus on editing, which is very important, but don't let that be an excuse to not get out on occasion and check out the local herd.